15 Ways to Make Meetings More Accessible

The BestCities Global Alliance, a consortium of 20 convention and visitors bureaus, has unveiled a list of 15 tips for removing barriers in events for delegates with disabilities, based on findings from the newly released "Universal Accessibility in Meetings" report. "It is our intention that BestCities bureaus will trailblaze the way for other destinations around the world to make significant improvements in universal accessibility," said Jeannie Lim, executive director of the Singapore Tourism Board and chair of BestCities Global Alliance. The study was compiled with research partners Rehabilitation International and GainingEdge.
 
Here are the 15 tips.

1) Self-education. Identify and understand which enablers are required in order to promote and encourage universally accessible meetings in your industry. Accessible meetings and events are not only competitive opportunities, but also a social responsibility.
 
2) Compatibility. Seek out destinations and venues that have established a strong and tangible business case for universally accessible meetings and events. The accessible market, which is largely underserved, offers destinations and businesses new opportunities.
 
3) Designed with accessibility in mind. ISO Standard 21542: Accessibility and Usability of the Built Environment can be referenced for evaluating and/or designing meeting venues to be accessible and inclusive. When applied in the early stages of building design, the costs of providing accessibility and usability measures are minimal. Retrofitting incurs additional costs and is more complex.
 
4) Ongoing accessibility provisions. In addition to referencing the ISO standard, facility managers must maintain the universal accessibility and usability of a venue throughout its lifespan. 
 
5) Awareness and training. Awareness and sensitivity training should be mandatory in your organization and at the facilities you choose. This training helps team members gain insights into critical issues for people with different disabilities, and learn appropriate language and communication strategies while focusing on attitudinal and practical issues. The training will enable individuals and organizations to be confident when supporting their customers and employees who have disabilities.
 
6) Universal Accessibility certification. Develop an industrywide certification program for Universal Accessibility. As a start, the program can be a credential recognized at a local or national level. This can be an assessment, an examination or accreditation that is administered and recognized by a third party with expertise in issues related to inclusion. This certification project can be carried out through three levels:
Level 1: Participate in and support the project by signing a commitment to enhancing universal accessibility, conducting a self-assessment and submitting a report.
Level 2: Work to improve universal accessibility by complying with at least 50 percrnet of accessibility standards.
Level 3: Fully meet universal accessibility guidelines by complying with 100 percent of accessibility standards and submitting to a third-party assessment.
 
7) Universal-access audits. Develop a universal-access audit checklist and minimum recommended standards for meeting organizers and destination suppliers. Define minimum-requirement standards of universal accessibility with help from experts in this field.
 
8) Look for local champions. Does the destination or venue work with local associations or groups to better understand the specific needs of special delegates? This can provide better mainstream services for those with accessibility needs and more fulfilling experiences. Seek champions from within these groups.
 
9) References and guidelines. Destinations and venues should provide reference documents or links to guidelines on how to accommodate participants with disabilities for event organizers. Rehabilitation International's Commission on Technology and Accessibility has prepared guidelines on "Accessibility to Meetings and Conventions"; they can be found in the full report.
 
10) Best-practice case studies. Destinations and venues — and planners, for that matter — should share best practices through a documents developed for industry organizations that have a stake in the meetings industry. The compilation of such case studies help spread practical advice on how to make meetings and events more accessible to people with disabilities. Include a recognition program so that best-practice events are identified, rewarded and emulated.
 
11) Visitor information. Destinations should provide information on accessibility in their city. Destination marketing organizations and convention bureaus are usually the first point of reference for such information.
 
12) Check if the website is accessible. Web accessibility means that websites, tools and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them. These barriers to print, audio and visual media can be overcome through web technologies.
 
13) Access guides. Determine the accessibility needs of delegates attending your meetings. Create a separate map for persons with disabilities, along with facilities that are helpful to them. The guide should be easy to read and available in alternate formats with attention paid to typefaces, sizes and colors. Use apps and other technology aids available.
 
14) Jobs and awards. Offer jobs and opportunities for people with disabilities. Provide awards and accolades to incentivize and promote inclusion efforts.
 
15) Bid specifications. Meeting planners can address issues of accessibility within their bid specifications and bid evaluations.